On the first day I opened The Hired Girl, by Laura Amy Schlitz, I read a hundred pages.
I immediately liked Joan, a Pennsylvania farm girl who runs away from an abusive situation to Baltimore, where she gets a job as a hired girl with a well-to-do family. The year is 1911.
Joan tells her story through letters to her diary. (She writes so well as a fourteen-year-old that I’m both inspired and intimidated as I consider keeping a journal!)
Wednesday, June the fourteenth, 1911
I didn’t think it would be so hard to write in this diary every day. Late spring is always busy on the farm. I spend my days rushing from one have-to to the next have-to.” (page 10)
At the heart of the story is Joan’s struggle with woman’s roles, poverty vs. riches, and understanding how her Catholic faith fits among other faiths.
I love the way the author’s views permeate the book because it forces me to think. Whether we’re readers or writers, we can’t help but bring to stories the lens of our own belief systems.
Without preaching, the author raises key questions: What if two people who follow two different faiths and are equally devoted to their beliefs want to marry? What if their two faiths cannot both be true, from the standpoint of reason and logic? Finally, is it right to share what you believe with a child who’s not your own?
While Joan is babysitting Oskar, a five-year-old Jewish boy, he spots her crucifix on the wall and asks about it. So Joan tells him about Jesus dying on the cross. She says, “The story is about His courage and His love.” (page 303) Oskar’s family and friends overhear part of the discussion and are justly furious, but Joan’s only fourteen and doesn’t know any better, so the result is all kinds of conflict, which makes a great story.
Who would like this book
Women and girls from age twelve and up who enjoy historical fiction, adventure, and family humor, and aren’t put off by deep topics will be glad they made time for this story. You’re in good hands with Newbery medalist Laura Amy Schlitz, who writes with insight and wit to create unforgettable characters.
Posted on July 5, 2016